2016-04-05 - Kozue vs. Utena, First Duel

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Kozue and Utena's first duel.


Utena Tenjou, Kozue Kaoru, Anthy Himemiya, Wakaba Shinohara


The Dueling Arena

OOC - IC Date:

04-05-2016 - 07-22-2014

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

The cruel morning light floods through the classroom window, illuminating every individual hair on Utena's head with a sort of halo, like it's wrought from strands of pink diamond -- or maybe rose gold. The head in question is far from angelic, though, bent as it is over a math worksheet which is due in fifteen minutes.

She is taking out her stress on a pencil pursed between her lips, chewing it to shreds even while she scribbles miserably with a /second/ pencil. Perhaps she's hoping that she might get points for sheer illegibility in a sort of professorial reverse psychology -- if they can't tell if it's right or wrong, will she get partial credit?

Anthy is sitting serenely at a nearby desk, fussing with her papers; Wakaba, though, is doing her level best to fuck with Utena-at-her-most-desperate, holding her own, properly completed math homework over her lower face like a delicate fan. Utena's too proud and too honest to ask to copy it anyway, which is creating an interesting dynamic between the two of them, wherein Wakaba grows frustrated from being ignored, and Utena, sweatdrops pouring down her neck, keeps trying to block out the 'seduction' and just -- get -- another -- problem -- done...

Wakaba changes tactics, her brown eyes sharply humorous over the edge of her papers.

"So why didn't you do it, anyway, Utena?"

"Mmmffff..." Her lips are going to be black with lead.

"Were you on... a date?"


"Are you TWO-TIMING me?"


It's getting hard to tell how much of this is a joke.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Kozue Kaoru's attendance record was a matter of some contention amongst her classmates. All of them agreed that she was tardy far more often than was acceptable, often showing up with disheveled clothing that looked like it had spent several days in a hamper before she'd bothered to hang it up.

Today might be considered an exception.

Her school uniform was immaculately ironed, a creamy yellow contrast to her eyes and her hair. She strolls into Utena's homeroom class like she belongs there amongst her seniors. Her fingertips of her right hand, bearing a rose signet brush against the chair back of someone she knows at the back of the classroom, but she doesn't stop, she just keeps walking towards Utena's window aisle, shifting between light and dark and back again as she moved past each window. She catches the end of the exchange.

There's only the barest hint of a smirk on her lips. Her left hand is behind her back, as if it held some secret surprise for a lover. Her right is near her chin now, palm up, the pink of the signet glinting in the light. Her eyes closed, "My. You're being rather rude to your girlfriend, Utena. Why don't you answer her?"

Her right hand brushes back through the side of her hair, as she turns in profile. "I really do hate to make things more awkward for the quarreling lovers but I'm going to have to insist you keep your commitment to /our/ date."

Her left hand reveals itself in a sudden motion as she extends a white tinted rose towards the engaged. It's so freshly picked that one might swear the dew is still nestled within the petals, sparkling in the morning sun. "...I'll pick you up at the dueling arena after class today. Don't be late~"

And if their conversation turns a few heads, and the whispers start... she absolutely doesn't mind.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elrwRshCUpk

Wakaba draws away from Kozue as though she's been slapped, not wanting to be anywhere near her -- or this. Utena freezes, not with any real surprise or umbrage, but as though she were the subject of a tragic painting. Gloom rolls off of her in waves. She looks up at Kozue and, in slow-motion, accepts the rose.

Then her pencil falls out of her mouth, and clatters on the desk, the eraser causing it to bounce, spin, roll... and fall to the floor, where it snaps in two.

"It's not a date," she protests, not hotly but with an odd detachment, as though, in this moment, she's being someone else. Her eyes are their usual blue, blue like Miki and Kozue's, but also blue like Sayaka's. "It's not the same at all."


The sun rises and begins to fall. Shadows play on the white walls of the academy, but there are none where Utena walks now, through the sacred cathedral of Ohtori's tallest and oldest -- and now /only/ -- grove. Alone amongst the landscape baptized by the flames of the Searrs Foundation, this place was guarded by soldiers, the fire broken at considerable risk and quite possibly some loss of life.

It's easy to imagine that this wouldn't be the first time blood watered those old roots. They have that feeling. Where so much of the island is -- was -- well-manicured forest, ancient in the way that European forests are ancient, fairy tale, these trees are even older. They tower above, silent and hopefully aloof. Everyone and everything is beneath them, and they reserve and pass judgement on their own terms.

There is only one path prepared for those who would pass through, wrought in smooth white marble, with pools on either side that clearly resist algae without any defuzzing action by the school janitors. Nothing green and fuzzy dares to grow within.

There are no walls here, but there is a gate.

Emblazoned with the Ohtori rose seal -- but surely much older than the founding of the academy -- it opens at a touch. Utena has learned to steel herself against the chill of the single droplet of water that emerges from the gate to shatter against her ring, but she flinches every time. It's just so icy... and the waterfalls that pour from either side of the gate, upon her touching the handle, so loud.

Water roars, and its torrential flow is louder than the gears that must be grinding beneath, a force which rips away pieces of the gate and reconfigures them as another stone rose, this one fully three-dimensional and more realistic, no longer the image of the /seal/, but a giant statue of a real flower. The last bars -- white wrought iron, and spiked -- withdraw, and Utena meets her first opponent:

The stairs.

But she doesn't walk them alone. With every step up the rising spiral, she doesn't feel closer and closer to Anthy, waiting at the top, because the Rose Bride is even closer still. As she ascends impossibly high, past even the reach of those forbidding trees, she feels warmth on her shoulders and at her throat, as epaulettes and chords spring into being. Ruffles blossom at her waist, but she doesn't feel magical ribbons bursting into place, then solidifying as lace. No--

She feels Anthy's hand in hers, as they walk towards the dorm at night. She feels the sting of one too many bites of shave ice on her tongue. She feels the heat of tears soaking into her hankerchief. And she smells roses.

The climb doesn't exhaust her. Quite the opposite -- as she takes the last few steps, she does so with momentum. Her hair pours behind her like a prince's cape, as she strides through the gate at the top to take in, as she always does, the breathtaking sight of the upside-down castle in the sky. She swallows, and feels the last of the heat disappear down the line of her throat to kindle in her belly.

Then she walks towards the Rose Bride, in her full and glorious crimson regalia, and only after she's quietly greeted Anthy does she look over at the one who called her here.

"Kozue... you never told me why. Why any of this -- your offer, your challenge. Why?"

Despite how high in the sky they are, there is little wind, and the sound of her voice carries effortlessly between them, despite the weighty emotions it's carrying. Anger, frustration, and most of all the sort of longing sadness that belongs in the eyes of someone standing outside a garden they can never enter again.

A garden she was never in at all.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRJAkp_1n8Q&index=15&list=PL05008AF2CAA19C3B


How does one grasp it? Even as a child she was told it was through fairy tales of princes and princesses in their castles. Of light shining down upon gardens full of vibrant music and dancing butterflies butterflies. A tale told from the ground of the Kaoru estate all the way to the wall twin's own bedroom, with a silhouette of a castle amongst sparkling stars.

Until she learned that fairy tale was a lie.

Nothing lasts forever. She can't fix what's broken. Over time it's what she told herself, to grasp onto what she could. Settle for that. Eternity doesn't exist. It was the realm of the skeptic, the cynic. Until one night, she began to believe again, the same night she started to see spot of crimson amongst an obsidian sea, tangled up in endless light.

And now as she looks up above to a castle once again, it feels like she's a child, believing in fairy tales again. That eternity was right there, if she just had the ambition and resolve to grasp it. But she's not an innocent child anymore. She doesn't desire the same things. She'll make it real in the present, not the past. And that won't happen if she acts the part of a Princess waiting around for her Prince to come.

She will fix it and make it last forever this time. And she doesn't care who she hurts on the way.

Another lie she tells herself.

Her chin dips away so she doesn't look like she's staring at it like some slack-jawed rube, she's wearing a white jacket with epaulets, indigo trim, her left breast waiting for the Rose Bride to pin a rose there. Indigo pants. She's wearing the ring of course. It was her invitation to /try/ and grasp eternity.

In her right hand, she holds the handle of a sickle, attached to a long chain. One link near the handle has a kink in it that hasn't quite mended, the greater part of it lies casually upon the arena floor like some twisted serpent, a blackened weight with two blades extending from either end marking the end of its fearsome coils.

A wicked weapon for a wicked girl.

The outline of Utena appears first, and some part of her imagines that girl toppling right back down all of those stairs to come to rest, still at the end.

But she doesn't really want her broken that way if she can help it. And it would deny her the much greater satisfaction.

"At last. I'm so glad you made it Utena."

Utena is advancing towards her, towards the Rose Bride, towards her position. And what she says. Kozue's deceptively delicate hands clench just a fraction, her eyes narrowing. She stares across the gap, seeing her and not seeing her. She's seeing instead the outlines of two people carved out of nearly the same mold, shouting at each other. She's hearing the word disgusting rebounding in her skull.

"You couldn't possibly understand my reasons. You're the type of girl who doesn't need this power." There's a certain edge to those words, "How fortunate for you, that you can live in a fairy tale world where you get to play the part of the dashing Prince straight out of every girl's fantasies, taking everything... and everyone around you for granted."

She takes a single step forward, there's the sound of metal dragging on the arena floor as the chain shifts. "I'm simply a girl who needs this power and isn't about to wait for a Prince to escort me into my own castle. That's the only explanation I'm going to give you."

"Now a question to you. Have you given my offer any consideration? Are you going to hand over the keys, or..." There's something in her smile that doesn't feel very sincere, like she already thinks Utena has made her choice, "...am I going to have to take them?"

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HgRP1Mv5mLs

Utena stares at Kozue's weapon uncomprehendingly. Is she some kind of /ninja/? But her attention can't remain on the remarkable artifact -- not when her question is being answered.

Or not answered, as the case may be. Her expression darkens. She doesn't like what she's hearing. There are a few ways Kozue's response might have been more offensive to her, but only a few.

The skies are clear but there's lightning in her eyes. Her voice is thunderous. "Usually this is the part where I tell them that I don't want to fight... but today, I really kind of do." Her posture shifts, her hands going to her hips, silhoutte from the stories and a tone that can't be called lecturing because it is just too fierce... and maybe, underneath the stormclouds, too tearful. There's just the tiniest hint of water there, the flash of an open wound. "You can't just... treat everyone like this, like a tool, just to get whatever you want. You've hurt enough people coming this far -- you've given me no reason to think you won't hurt Himemiya too."

The Rose Bride affixes her eponymous flower on the girls' chests, the challenger's first, then the champion's. It brings the two of them very close together, and Utena's eyes soften with regret... then harden again, as she looks past Anthy's spiky crown, straight at Kozue.

"And she is not. A set. Of keys!"

Everything goes dark.

-- Or, no, nothing has changed at all. Things are merely dark in comparison to the light shimmering between the palms of the Rose Bride, holy light that gathers from her chest to form a sphere.

"O rose of the noble castle, Power of Dios that slumbers within me, harken unto thy master and be revealed..."

As Anthy bends backwards, Utena is there to catch her, and together they execute what would, on any ballroom floor, have them bounced by the guidance counselor for being at least two feet too low a dip.

There it is -- the hilt of a sword, which fits perfectly in Utena's palm. The blade comes next, reflecting the Rose Bride's lips, and with it, words, words that in turn use Utena's lips to make themselves heard, but not a chant she knew until the first time they burst forth.

"Grant me the power to bring the world revolution!"

The radiance reaches its climax as it spills down the blade, lifted in a salute not to Kozue but to higher powers, perhaps to the castle itself and everything it represents.

It gathers on Utena's precious ring.

The bells of the Chairman's Tower peal.

Utena lowers the sword to eye-level, parallel to the floor. As an extention of her arm, they point together, the Sword of Dios and its Engaged, towards Kozue's chest.

"BRING IT!" she screams.

The duel begins.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Utena's answer. Makes her smile grow. Wider and wider. And then she laughs once, as if she finds it funny, and right now in this situation, it has the same dissonant din of nails to a chalkboard.


Her left hand runs down the chain, as she hefts it, causing more scrapes as the chain moves more and more. "This wouldn't be half as satisfying if you didn't decide to do the 'noble' thing."

Himemiya pins a rose to her breast, but she's not looking at Himemiya, she's looking only at Utena as Utena denies her words, "My~ Such fire! Do you think I don't know that? Maybe you're right. She certainly is a girl, but she's also a means to an end." And Kozue is just the type of person who is willing to treat a person that way to get what she wants.

There's a certain sort of splendor, like witnessing a miracle first hand, as she's courtesy to the holy light of Dios shining so brightly from Himemiya's chest, as Utena catches her like one might a lover. If she wasn't too much in awe of it for just a moment, she might even tease her on that.

But she doesn't.

Instead she watches Utena take the sword of Dios to hand, the mark of the engaged, of the Champion. Watches her point it right at Kozue and...

"Oh don't worry..."

Squaring her stance her hand whips up suddenly, and in one motion the chain follows, it starts in a short spiral over her head, that grows larger and larger as that hand shifts closer to the sickle, playing it like a virtuoso upon keys or strings.

The weight sporting blades is heavy enough and moving with enough swiftness that it raises a breeze in its wake, then a gale that rustles hair, like it was an autumn day. For just a moment, a crimson light reflects in her eyes, as if from a looming celestial body. But that is an illusion.

Closer and closer the weight comes in the sustained spiral of pain, seemingly like an inevitability that it would strike her eventually if she did nothing, yet punish her with a lesson if she advanced. "...I'll bring it straight to you!"

COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru transforms into HiME Kozue!
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou transforms into Revolutionary Girl Utena!
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru has used Sostenuto Spiral on Utena Tenjou.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou narrowly dodges Kozue Kaoru's Sostenuto Spiral, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Utena Tenjou is Quipped!  Utena Tenjou's Fade ability activates!  Utena Tenjou's Flash ability activates!  Cripple, Diversion, and Stagger applied to Utena Tenjou!  
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Utena's hair rose at the impetus of the Power of Dios, and now it rises again, a windtossed shroud at the mercy of Kozue's vortex. Her eyes widen at the spinning blades, and innocence shines therein; though she's tested her blade in battle against other monsters that beset Tokyo, here in the Dueling Arena, the strangeness of fighting such a weapon takes her off guard.

The howling electric guitar, however, does not. And as an unseen chorus joins in, she throws herself to the floor.


Her abdomen burns as she strains to get under the chain without letting the marble tear her rose away. She lands on the fingertips of one hand, and flexes into a one-armed pushup, which would have looked really cool, as she launches towards Kozue, if that chain hadn't caught her right on the shoe on her way in.

It sends her into a much less controlled tumble, and she rises from her puddle of hair without much in the way of fluid grace. Wincing, she takes her untrained stance again, and moves forward.


"Where do you get off, acting like this, anyway? You think whatever problems you have justify treating everyone around you like garbage? You could have asked for help!"

She lunges, just like she does in the hallways to kill time, her blade angling to cut through the chainstorm and force Kozue back. "You could /still/ ask for help," she adds more quietly, her eyes shimmering. "It's not too late."

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has used I Want To Be Hated By Lies on Kozue Kaoru.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru perfectly counters Utena Tenjou's I Want To Be Hated By Lies, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Counter!  Kozue Kaoru's Reverse ability activates!  Kozue Kaoru's Tactician ability activates! 
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru's counterattack, Strepitoso, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Utena Tenjou! 
 <Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

While the look in her eyes are vicious, this isn't a fight of passion. Despite her constant assertions that she was a wild animal, all of Kozue's violence was calculated. She watches Utena seemingly flounder before the unfamiliar weapon, changing the angle. Watches how she advances. It's pretty admirable, how she's adapting to the unknown. Worthy of every single fan she gets during a basketball game.

Too bad Kozue couldn't afford to admire her.

And when Utena ducks low and leans in, she gets the satisfaction of watching the Engaged stumble. The weight ricochets as the girl trips up the momentum, crumbling concrete not far from her, before Kozue jerks it and regains control.

Her hand shifts rapidly, like she's climbing a rope in class, shortening the chain as Utena keeps moving forward fluidly, but she keeps up the horizontal spiral. Until the last second.

She doesn't have time to listen to Utena talk yet. That sharp blade is coming. It gleams brighter than ever Greer's.

At the last second she changes the spiral into a diagonal motion, more up and down than side to side across the arena, and gives it a short toss right at the advancing Swordswoman. The chain strikes the blade, and the weight wraps shallowly around it. With a sharp tug of the chain, she sends the sword and girl attached skittering past her, barely avoiding the edge of that holy blade. She tries to take a swipe with her sickle at the pure white rose but the chain slides off far too soon, sparing Utena that further indignity.

"My someone's being unruly."

She skips backwards a pace, spinning around at the hips and letting the chain of the Element work at its own pace, independent of the hand that encircles it. Her intent isn't to hit Utena with the weight this time. It's to hit her with the chain, to let the weight do its work of wrapping around her fully so she could assume more control over her movements.

"Help? And just what kind of 'help' could you offer me? If I asked you to fix what's broken would you hand me glue?" She's all but sneering in disgust as she vies for dominance, "The only way to get ahead in this world is to be willing to dirty your hands! It's high time you realized that!" ... But at the same time, disgust at herself grows, as she talks like an adult that knows what's best for her.

COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru has used Dominant Chord on Utena Tenjou.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou narrowly braces Kozue Kaoru's Dominant Chord, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Kozue Kaoru is Psyched!  Trap applied to Utena Tenjou! 
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.


Utena gasps as her blade is jarred in her hand, and she only holds onto it by the narrowest of margins -- and makes the rookie mistake of continuing that tactic as the chain closes in, trying to swat it away. It winds around her like a boa constrictor, lashing her free arm to her side. Links sit just above and below the rose -- it's something of a miracle in itself that this duel isn't already over. She's lucky, unimaginably lucky.

And she knows it, a mottled blush rising to her cheeks as she realizes how completely humiliating her position is now. It rarely bothers her to suck at swordplay, but Kozue's awesome control over such a complex weapon makes her feel even more like a kid in a sandbox than usual.

Yet being trapped like this is almost comforting, and there's an odd familiarity to the claustrophobia of the chain; even as she wrestles with it, her heat is dying, her eyes becoming distant in that infuriating way they do when someone is telling her something important while she listens to her own sountrack.

What's the point of living, when everyone dies someday? A voice in front of her, a voice in her ear. Tears on her cheeks. Dimly remembered strength.


She grabs at the chain with her rough jock fingertips, trying to get a decent grip so she can tear it away, even while her sword remains pointlessly held in a defensive posture.

Her cheeks puff out with sheer frustration. "WELL, IF YOU'D TELL ME WHAT WAS WRONG MAYBE I'D BE ABLE TO SUGGEST SOMETHING!"

At a loss for creating slack in the chain, she gives up and YANKS, trying to reel Kozue in towards her prey -- and the sword that separates them. The tip wavers a little; Utena doesn't want to /hurt/ her.

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has used The Cage Of My Memory on Kozue Kaoru.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru narrowly braces Utena Tenjou's The Cage Of My Memory, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Utena Tenjou is Psyched!  Kozue Kaoru's Block ability activates!  Kozue Kaoru's Parry ability activates!  Trap applied to Kozue Kaoru! 

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rudziat8H_k

Utena tries to get a better grip at the chain as the HiME starts to advance on her to end this. Kozue's face screws up in angry consternation as she wraps the chain around her arm and gets a better grip of her own. Didn't she know she was trapped? That this was-

Her feet slide. The jock's strength wages a supernatural war of might against the swimmer's limbs. She tries to dig in her heels. One she finds herself losing. She gets pulled in closer and closer she's so close that the anxiety in her eyes is reflected in the immaculate blade in the Engaged's hands. "That's your problem... Utena..."

With one forceful tug, she manages to get the sickle in the way of that blade, catching the sword at the beard so hard that sparks are raised as metal shrieks against metal. "...you take for granted that you can be my Prince. Even now. But you can't. The only thing of value you can do for me is-" She raises a foot, kicks off the guard of the Sword of Dios, just enough to give her enough leverage to unravel herself a little from the chained blade lock of the two combatants, "-LOSE!"

She takes a breath, her chest is heaving hard after that little exchange, and she sounds furious, "I'm done playing fair. Cassandra!" An ethereal image of Kozue becomes the shadow of a massive bird, momentarily obfuscated by the large geyser of water that rises. The water falls away, sloshing all over the arena floor.

Mechanical, organic, and arcane. A large swan, with azure wings, pinions, and crests of gleaming razors, encircled by flowing streams of water. The Swan Princess. It glares at Utena as balefully as if she'd disturbed her nest. "Take it off." Kozue demands.

Its slender neck rises, raising its pointed metallic beak. It trumpets a cry as it spreads out its wings, but the arena doesn't shake, instead responds by starting to flood. Pulses of waves, flowing out of its taloned feet. Wave by wave of tremendous amounts of water, flowing out so quickly that one would swear that this was a bathtub, not a massive arena.

Another threatening imperative, "Snatch off that rose right now..." Kozue let's go of the sickle, then simply makes a short splashing hop, and alights the back of her Child. Her Element shimmers, freeing the Engaged as it moves back into her hands but...

A stream of water whips out, trying to catch Utena head on in abdomen and slam her shallowly underwater. "...or be washed away."

COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru transforms into Kozue and Cassandra!
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru has used Ebbe und Fluth on Utena Tenjou.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou narrowly counters Kozue Kaoru's Ebbe und Fluth, taking 4 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Kozue Kaoru is Psyched!  Utena Tenjou's Tactician ability activates!  Stun and Tangle applied to Utena Tenjou! 
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou's counterattack, Flight of the Wingless Angel, partially gets through, doing 34 Fatigue damage to Kozue Kaoru!  Critical Counterhit! 
 <Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.


Utena seems surprised by her own success in the tug-of-war, her eyebrows quirking upwards, but she is a little older and a lot taller, which is not the usual state of affairs in this arena. She may judge everyone by Saionji, at least in terms of build and attitude -- he left a strong impression, not unlike the taste in her mouth after chugging a whole cup of oversteeped green tea in order to stay awake through an exam review.

The analogy continues comfortably when it comes to describing her expression. She grouses as literal sparks fly between them, "I'm not trying to be your PRINCE, we already TALKED about that!" A dinnertime confession and rejection, apparently entirely fabricated and tactical, at least on one side. "I'm really sorry that I can't return those feelings!" Even so, she repeats the apology of the prior evening, gracious to the last.

Grunting when Kozue kicks the sword, she flexes her hips and manages, somehow, to stay upright and holding onto her sword, which is at least one for two better than she's done so far otherwise. She does not however hold onto her bitter expression, which melts away into confusion and a certain healthy fear as the fight abruptly becomes two-on-one. One of two a big monster, no less.


It is not the time to stick around.

Kozue's releasing her, but she's already in motion, leaping up the moment the chain is slack, up and over the water, over HiME and Child, so high and so perfectly that she might as well be accompanied by Judy Garland instead of this screaming chorus.

It's a backflip with an immense arc, and in midair and midflip, her blade scores a blow on the monstrous swan. It digs in, allowing her to catch and pull herself up--

--allowing Utena to alight upon Cassandra's furthest, longest metallic tailfeather, soaked to the socks but nothing more, and for a single perfect moment, she's balanced on one toe. Then she flexes her legs and leaps again, crossing the Child in an eyeblink to hack away at Kozue's rose -- or any parts of Cassandra that get too close -- with fast, aggressive slashes.

"I'm TRYING to be your FRIEND!"

COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has used Take My Revolution on Kozue Kaoru.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru fails to brace Utena Tenjou's Take My Revolution, taking 54 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit! 
 <Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

It might be said that flight is the realm of her Child. But not really. She truly shined upon the waves. Kozue finds herself shocked to see an avenging angel. Leaping. Descending. "Cass! Swat her d-"

The Child is responding, raising a wing up and...

The blade shoots past it, neatly spitting part of the torso. The Child lets out a screech of pain that would trump any murder of angry crows. Utena is up and over and on Cassandra's tailfeathers, and...

Kozue is nervously, almost frantically trying to parry them, blow by blow, but she's coming up short. "No, no, no...! It won't..."

Slashes are appearing on her jacket, on her uniform pants. The blade is lunging for her rose and she realizes she can't get the blade up in time. "...end like... nngh-" A shadow descends. That's Cassandra's long neck, bending backwards, just enough that it gets in the way of the blade of Dios.

It carves cleanly into the metal protecting it, taking the blow taht would have cut the rose off of her. Not much further and it might have severed the Child's neck. Kozue looks panic-stricken by the fact that she did. She thinks that if the blade had carved a little further, then she'd have lost her own neck. But beyond that, she has a certain instinctive affection for her Child, who makes a plaintive sound of agony as she suffers from the wound.

She tries to regain her composure, but her whole self is trembling, it's hard for her to look strong and in control when she's this sorely beset. She feints with her sickle. A few short slashes, just intended to keep Utena busy, Cassandra knew what to do, "I'd t-take your feelings if you had. Add you to my collection. Friendship though?"

Cassandra lifts her head high, and after an agonized snort, raises her head straight to the heavens, and cries. The sky instantly darkens, as if a storm cloud passed overhead, "...What a laugh! You and Sayaka-chan are cut from the same cloth aren't you? Friendship won't get me what I /want/!"

That's not a storm cloud though, if Utena bothers to look up, she'll see that it's a massive wave, coming from beyond the boundaries of the arena. It's a tsunami. A massive one, stretching the whole length of the arena, tall enough to crest the nigh-endless stairs, white-capped, and it's about to crash down upon them both. Kozue and Cassandra are likely immune by virtue of it being under their control.

But is the engaged? Kozue has this sense of resignation now, like she didn't want it to go this far. But if it's the only way? "You should have... done... what I asked..." She can't speak anymore, because that's the moment when it slams down, drowning away everything unless drastic action is taken.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Kozue Kaoru has used Reflets dans l'eau on Utena Tenjou.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou narrowly dodges Kozue Kaoru's Finisher, Reflets dans l'eau, taking 72 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Utena Tenjou's Fade ability activates!  Utena Tenjou's Flash ability activates! 
 <Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.


If you give a Prince a dragon...

At first it's easier to fight -- what lingering doubts Utena has about fighting Kozue in earnest, despite everything she's done, are quickly banished by the simple necessity of having to give everything she has, everything she is, just to survive this monumentally unfair turning of the tables. She even grins, razor-thin, when her hits start to land.

But, as before, the expression falters; this time, it's Kozue's alarm, her trembling, and the shockingly human scream of the swan that stays her hand. This duel may have become a true battle, but it isn't better for the change, and Utena is in no way ready for it, not really. She backs up further than she needs to, avoiding that sickle, skidding needlessly on the wet metal because what she's really retreating from is the sound of the scream.

Ironically, it's Kozue's commentary /afterwards/ that grounds her -- meant to hurt, it only reminds her why she's here. Not just for Himemiya, not this time. But maybe not just for Sayaka and Miki, either. There has to be a way to help everyone.

And so she faces the oncoming darkness with wide-eyed terror, but her lips in a firm line. What blots out the sky also hides the castle that dangles within it, and so, as everything becomes water, it is impossible to see what passes between it and Utena.

Water scours her, but not directly -- it has parted to either side of her outstretched blade, which shines brilliantly as it cleaves a tsunami in twain. Nonetheless, she cannot escape it entirely, and besides being drenched to the bone, a huge gash opens up on the back of her free hand, which she used to shelter her rose. A good thing, too; otherwise that waterlogged chip of marble debris would have done what this dark tide could not.


There isn't time for the wave to ebb, or even finish crashing, though. Utena is faster than that, and her strikes are no longer clumsy -- or plural. No, as she screams a wordless war cry which is not quite her own in the same way that chant at the beginning was not, there is a faint impression, much as in the classroom earlier, that someone else is looking out of her fierce, defiant, desperate eyes.


And they know how to use a sword -- in a single, perfect slash that leaves nothing behind but a burst of pink light and the faint scent of roses, rising subtly but inexorably above the salty storm.


She lands hard, taking a knee. Gasping and sputtering, seawater choking her lungs, Utena nudges her limp locks over one shoulder in order to see whether or not this is over -- and if Himemiya is okay.

The latter at least is case closed: the Rose Bride is floating comfortably above the falling waterline inside a convenient rowboat. She holds a matching red umbrella. She's completely dry.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Utena Tenjou has used Absolute Destiny Apocalypse on Kozue Kaoru.
COMBAT: Utena Tenjou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru narrowly dodges Utena Tenjou's Finisher, Absolute Destiny Apocalypse, taking 60 Fatigue damage!  Kozue Kaoru is unable to keep fighting! 
 <Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

It all comes crashing down. Even if this was her element, it was coming down upon her, and all she could do was cling to her Child's neck as her anchor against it. All of her hearing and sight of the rest of the arena they were all drowned out by aquatic fury. Yet to Kozue herself, the water feels more like a ferocious fall shower. Like the Child was causing just slowing the descent upon it's HiME, but sparing Utena not one bit of the ocean's fury.

She fully expects the other girl to get washed away. To find her floating face down.

Part of her even regrets that mental image. It meant she'd gone further than she wanted.

But once her roar of the ocean's fury fades, she hears the war cry of a girl who didn't even want to get involved in the duels, even before she sees her. The shock in her eyes was tangible. Cassandra's back is slick, slippery, but she doesn't lose her footing. She jerks backwards, she twists.

She sees a shine of pink, and more lights beside from the castle above, gleaming in that blade. A glimpse of what she thought she stood to gain. The floral scents hits her nostrils, just as a gasp leaves her lips.

As indigo. petals fly everywhere, mingling with pink. The shock in her eyes doesn't retreat at all. If anything it reaches new heights, new depths.

Stately bells toll in the distance, alternating one by one. Shock is replaced by angry frustration as her hands clench and something guttural leaves her lips... "RRGH-!" She raises her sickle like she was going to take it out on Utena despite the outcome out of sheer, simple spite, but infinite weariness and something else replaces it...


This had been a sure thing. A certainty. She'd simply snatch victory away from Utena and have what she wanted and... it'd all be worth it. Everything she's done. Hurting Sayaka, and Utena besides. They'd learn their lesson about the true nature of this world and be better off.

But now...

...none of it had been worth it at all.

Her Element drops out of her hands. It splashes in the quickly draining pool of water and clatters upon marble. She follows it shortly after, staggering and stumbling off-balance, almost falling fully into the puddles herself.

Cassandra's neck reaches down to steady her. The Child makes a mournful sound.

Kozue's shoulders hunch as she regains her footing with a slosh, she simply takes a breath, then the weapon and the Child beside simply shimmer and fade away. Something inside of her twists, and she crosses her arms, over her chest as a shield against the pain.

She doesn't pause to reflect, to deny, to shout at Utena or the heavens for taking this away from her. Something that never belonged to her to begin with. She doesn't take another glance at what she feels like she's lost. At Himemiya or the Castle or Utena besides. She just starts limping towards the stairs back down with head bowed.

The music in her head plays softly now. She can't get it to stop. As memory after memory of better times flash by. She doesn't have it in her to cry.

<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_AHMNme4lo

Utena is too weak to avoid the sickle -- her legs are like jelly and she's not at all sure she can find her feet. Or her shoes, which were washed away somewhere along the tsunami's path. So she's lucky that Kozue doesn't bring it down. Lucky, lucky, lucky. It's always luck with her.

She doesn't feel so lucky, as she sees the look in the girl's eyes. She just feels sad. The Sword of Dios turns back into holy light and disappears, and as the Rose Bride calmly paddles to her side, stepping out of the boat just as the last of the water drains away, Utena calls:


It's hard to hear, past all that seawater, and she hocks a very unladylike load of mucus and maybe lung lining to clear her throat adequately.

"Sayaka says -- she thinks the three of you can go back to the way things were, that she knows it seems impossible, but that it could be even better this time. That she thinks it could happen."

Somewhere, somehow, she finds the strength to stand. Anthy takes her arm, and she leans on her, just a little, giving her a wan smile, so grateful, so tired.

"For what it's worth, Kozue... I think so too."

And with that hanging in the air, she lets the Rose Bride escort her down the Champion's flight of stairs, which spiral downwards, downwards into the darkness of the forest, to rend them far from this heavenly realm, where every act feels imbued with meaning, every word a portent, every mistake a prophecy fulfilled.

The Dueling Arena may be otherworldly, but her heartache is real. But so is Wakaba, with whom she has a study session tonight for tomorrow's math test, which she will surely fail. And -- for the moment -- letting those worries consume her is soothing in comparison.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Kozue almost doesn't stop...

But her feet stop moving eventually. Maybe she's just tired.

She's listening and not listening to Utena. The music. It keeps playing. It rarely stops, but for now it changes, to a song she arranged for someone. Her first composition since the age of seven. It had been an act of cruelty. It had been a wonderful gift at the same time.

Her eyes close. She takes a breath. "Idiots." She sounds so worn, "Idiots running into walls. Not making decisions. Because they see the world in a certain way."

She looks over her shoulder, her bangs are shrouding her face like a blue mourning veil her eyes open. "I hurt you both like this and you still think things can go back the way that they were? Spare me your delusions..."

She remembers trying. Time and time again, to examine how the two were estranged. Failing time and time again, as it devolved into a shouting match where the two could only hurt each other. She coughs once, raises a hand to rub her mouth roughly, then more quietly, "...and spare me your pity. That isn't the way the world works, that's just how you see it."

She looks back forward, then admits it, "It was fun for a while. Letting you think the best of me. Playing at being friends, but there's no world in which that could be true."

She starts walking again, just as slowly, towards the stairwell, but as if to cut off further conversation, she makes one request, a selfish one, given everyone she's hurt and made suffer, "Please leave me alone. Anything else is just rubbing it in." She reaches the arch, makes it to the first step, becomes a dark outline, then disappears down that long walk.